Whether you like it or not, it's quite likely that the overwhelming bulk of the 2015 Cincinnati Reds roster is already under contract with the club. Marlon Byrd will be the everyday LF, Skip Schumaker will again be asked to be more than a bit part player, all signs point to Kris Negron getting a shot at a utility role, and the 4th and 5th spots in the team's rotation appear set for a battle between at least five arms. The bullpen's 2014 foibles may mean that the non-closer's spots could be up for grabs, but with the only likely competition to the holdovers coming in the form of either rookies or players on minor league contracts (such as Jose Mijares), the net effect on the payroll has very few variables that could make it substantially fluctuate.
As the roster currently stands, the 25 Reds in the Opening Day dugout should look something* like this:
Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier
Jay Bruce, Billy Hamilton, Marlon Byrd, Jason Bourgeois
Devin Mesoraco, Brayan Pena
Skip Schumaker, Kris Negron, Donald Lutz
Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Anthony DeSclafani
Aroldis Chapman, Jumbo Diaz, Sam LeCure, Sean Marshall, Manny Parra, JJ Hoover, Carlos Contreras
* This is more a payroll exercise than a 'best case scenario' one, so roll with it. You could replace Contreras with Matt Magill, Daniel Corcino, or Jose Mijares, and the net payroll difference wouldn't change. Same goes for swapping Lutz for Eugenio Suarez, for instance.
Both Chapman and Frazier are still awaiting the final verdicts on their 2015 contracts, but assuming both settle on deals at the midpoint of the difference between what they've asked for and what the team has countered with, the net 2015 payroll for that group sits just shy of $109 million, if Cot's Contracts can be as trusted as usual. That's assuming that each of the pre-arb players get $500K, though, which will end up slightly underestimating their eventual salaries by just a bit, and it doesn't include Raisel Iglesias' 2015 salary ($1 million), Jack Hannahan's buyout ($2 million), or Ryan Ludwick's 2015 option buyout ($4.5 million). Jumble and grumble those numbers together and you'll find that the projected 2015 Reds payroll - with the roster as currently constructed - will sit somewhere just north of $116 million, barely a 1% increase over the franchise record 2014 payroll of $114.2 million.
In other words, the payroll bubble that had increased some 50% from 2010's $76 million total appears to have bumped into its limit, which is something that the trades of Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, and Chris Heisey clearly foreshadowed. What's odd, though, is that this doesn't exactly go along with what Walt Jocketty told The Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans in the wake of the Latos and Simon deals, when the Reds GM said both "our payroll is increasing this year" and "It's still increasing quite a bit over last year."
So, what gives?
Is there some other deal they're attempting to make that they expect to float the payroll number a few million bucks higher? Was that front office double-talk to keep the hopes of fans on the positive? Were those quotes merely made with the anticipation that the pending arbitration-eligible players would ask for much more than they have?
Or, perhaps, was there a player far more expensive than Marlon Byrd that the Reds were trying to target back in December that they couldn't quite manage to reel in?
Barring a significant trade, there doesn't appear to be many impact players available that could bump the Reds payroll much higher. A signing of John Axford would add some, as would a pickup of a Gordon Beckham type to help bolster what appears as a lackluster bench, but neither would break the bank to increase the ledger "quite a bit" over the 2014 payroll figure. There will be additional minor league signings, of course, and there's the off-chance that Ramon Santiago winds up back in camp on a big-league deal, but again, those don't move the needle out of the current payroll zone. Add in that the 40-man roster is already full, and potential additions don't appear to be very likely at all.
That, then, means that Walt either has something up his sleeve, swung and missed at something he had planned, or was talking out of the side of his mouth six weeks ago. Or, perhaps, we have quite a bit of difference in our interpretations of the phrase "quite a bit."